South Yorkshire Times – Saturday 28 November 1942
“Wish I Were There”
A Soldier’s Reverie of South Yorkshire
“Wish I were there now,” are words you often hear In the Army. You mention Conisbrough Castle, you talk of Mexborough High Street, you happen to speak of the most unreasonable spot in South Yorkshire and there is sure to be someone who will become suddenly mournful and say, ” Wish I were there now.”
You are always hearing it. At the most odd times. In the middle of a field, at the dinner table, on P.T. on a cold and frosty morning.
It is a phrase which signifies much. In it is all the concentrated yearning of a man separated from his home by hundreds of miles, a man who longs to be back there, to stay there.
You have either to feed a South Yorkshire man with good beer or luckily, catch him in a sentimental frame of mind, seldom indulged in, before he will talk. When he does, the secret is soon out. Beneath an outer armour sometimes of sour and invariably self-sufficient distrust, there can be found, if you go deep enough, a longing for home bordering often on the pathetic.
South Yorkshire is not a prepossessing area at best, though indeed, to hear a South Yorkshire man in khaki talk of it is to have painted a picture of most magnificent grandeur. Yet there are scores to-day who once detested the sight of the South Yorkshire Canal, and who will now tell you, vehemently enough that seldom have they seen a sight so fair as its turgid waters gurgling slowly past.
A memory lies secure in every heart. A memory not merely of grimy chimneys, weed-grown slag heaps or blackened factories, but of the life of which these things are a symbol, a life once lived and dearly desired to be lived again.
When a Mexborough man spoke to me the other day I happened to mention a railway level crossing on the way to Conisbrough. “Wish I were there now,” he said. “On a level crossing?” I queried. Be damned to your level crossing.” he answered sharply, “but I could get home from there.”
Similarly I have known the mention of a certain small beech wood near Swinton light the eye of a lad from that village with an unaccustomed glow, and talk of a barren, cobbled stretch of the Sheffield Road to send a Rotherham man into veritable ecstasies of anticipatory delight.
Those five words symbolise all that the men of South Yorkshire are fighting for to-day. Beneath the pall of Industrial smoke for which our part of the county is notorious, lie the towns and villages, the streets and houses, the cosy “back rooms ” and parlours of which memories are so avidly cherished In our hearts.
Someday these homes will welcome once more the men who are separated from them to-day. Someday khaki will be put aside In favour of more resplendent ultraviolet pin-stripes supplemented abundantly by ties and shirts of rainbow properties.
Until that time, visions merely float tantalisingly before our eyes, and we utter wistfully the words.
“Wish I were there now.”